I’ve recently been plowing through Aaron Carnes’ new book In Defense of Ska, and one of the best parts of the book has been Carnes’ dive into lesser-known ska bands from the 80s and early 90’s that didn’t get caught up in the late 90’s third-wave boom. Though many of these groups received local support and sold out shows around town, none managed to break-out beyond those borders, despite excellent live shows and songs.
One of the group’s that have particularly stood out was Berkeley, CA’s The Uptones. Formed in 1981, the group quickly built a ska scene in their part of the world, and would be major influences on groups like Operation Ivy (who in turn would influence a slew of ska-punk bands). One of the band’s best known songs, which fully deserved to be a hit in any decade, is “Burning Sky”.
Riding a mellow Jamaican groove, perfect brass accompaniment and soulful vocals, the song kept true to ska’s roots both musically and as a politically conscious art form. The lyrics are a battle cry:
You’re talkin’ ’bout national pride, how it fills you up inside
To see the youth marching in line, holding the flag to the sky
Just because you are winning, it does not mean that you’re right
And just because you are grinning now, it don’t mean the end of the fight
The song is hook-filled, with impeccable harmonies and an irresistible melody. As ska continues to gain new fans from the huge amount of new bands coming into the scene, it’s crucial to remember the groups that built the foundation for ska in the U.S. like The Uptones. And thankfully, the band reformed in the early 2000s and still play live shows (and will hopefully return to playing these as live music returns post-pandemic).
With their reformation, the band has been getting their catalogue up onto streaming services, and I highly recommend you check them out!